By Katie Helmreich
I have been blessed by hundreds and hundreds of incredible sermons in my lifetime! But… I could probably only tell you about a few of them. And… none come to mind at the moment. But any sermon after September 29, 2019? I’ve got them all right here!
My dear friend, Valerie, first inspired me to start taking sermon notes. I had assumed sermon notes were just for kids in confirmation class. I mean, what kind of weirdo would sit in the pew madly scribbling notes as an adult? But Valerie is not a weirdo. She’s a mom who sits in the pew with four kids, one of them often on her lap, and she found her notes to be extremely valuable.
My own pew is a pretty chaotic place. While there are only three children, it usually feels like one of them is actually a pack of monkeys. I often left church wondering if anything I’d heard had sunk in at all. But at Bible Study after the service, Valerie would show me the whole sermon we’d just experienced there on the page with her doodles and notes. It all came back to me; and it even made sense!
Emboldened by her example, I brought a pen and a small notebook to church. I wrote down the date. Then I wrote down the readings for the day. And then, even while the pack of monkeys swarmed all over me, even though I paused to open a pack of fruit snacks and hand out a tissue or three, I took notes. I drew a few little pictures, and I recorded what God was teaching me that morning. Looking back at that page now blesses me all over again!
On New Years Eve, 2020, I squeezed the last words of my sermon notes into the very last corner on the very last page of my fourth notebook. What a cool feeling! As I dug around for a fresh notebook I thought back to all the messages I’ve recorded so far.
I completely underestimated what a blessing it would be to page through these little booklets! There are lots of doodles. Dozens and dozens of stick people! (Jesus is always the one with a sash.) There’s a doodle of Alcatraz, complete with sharks. One of my favorites is of the quiet chapel in the midst of the Detroit Institute of Art. I’m just a little proud of my bowling ball physics example of every action having a reaction. I found an R2D2, a Doby, a hand puppet named Mr. Lumpy, a coffee maker, and a surprisingly large number of sheep.
These pages hold countless crosses, symbols of the sacraments, of the Holy Spirit, and well over 50 doodles of the empty tomb. I see repeated words and themes: Hope. Joy. Struggle and wrestling with God. Grace. Steadfast love. Resurrection, resurrection, resurrection. Peace. Glory. Freedom. Faith. Seeking. Waiting. Unity. Light. Refreshed. Renewed. Redeemed…
A lot has changed since I first started taking notes in September, 2019. I didn’t used to record the location because it was always at church. Who knew back then how much that could change? Our pew is a bit more civilized now (more like two kids and one monkey). We don’t bring fruit snacks any more, and if anyone thinks they may need a tissue, we livestream from home. For a while we drank coffee during the service, and once it spilled in my notes. “September 2019 me” had no idea what Covid was and didn’t know the difference between Facebook Livestream and a Facebook Premier.
We’ve done plenty of struggling and wrestling with God this year. At times we’ve been weighed down with worry or regret. But every week we hear of God’s goodness and love all over again. Every single week Jesus reminds us of His grace and our salvation, united with Him through our baptisms, and in His death and resurrection! God has not changed. Jesus is still in control. His mercies are still new every morning, and His hope renews my weary soul.
There’s no magic method to taking sermon notes. Whether you have a pack of monkeys with you in the pew, or none at all, consider giving it a try. Grab a pen and some paper and start with the date. Your notes might look pretty, but they probably won’t. That’s okay! It’s not about how it looks; it’s about remembering.
In Deuteronomy 6, God gives Israel this concise command:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:5-9, ESV
We remember best when we write it down. When we see it often. When we consider things again and again. When we talk about them with others!
(Ironically, I could NOT put my hand on the Deuteronomy verse, it wasn’t coming up in my searches but I knew it was in there somewhere. So I called my mom and we found it in the end, together!)
God is good. And God’s grace and peace will cover the pages of my new notebook, too! No matter what happens between now and the day I squeeze the last words on the last page of this fresh notebook, God’s Word will be there to comfort and to guide. And my doodles and sketches will help that Word take root in my heart. I can’t wait for “2022 me” to look back and see God’s faithfulness in the midst of whatever comes next!
Interested in learning more about the how-to of Sermon Sketch Noting? Check out this video from our friends at Visual Faith™ Ministry.